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Robert F. Bennett gubernatorial papers

Call Number: RH MS 276


This collection consists of the gubernatorial records of Robert F. Bennett, who served as Governor of Kansas from 1974-1978. The duties and activities of this position generated correspondence with state agencies and departments, individual legislators, constituents, and Republican party officials. The collection details Bennett's involvement as governor in the legislative process, budgetary deliberations, and in various regional and federal programs. The collection also contains materials on the governor's speeches, press releases, proclamations, legislative bill files, awards presented to the governor, materials relating to the 1974 and 1978 elections, and some materials relating to various committees with which Bennett was involved after his time as governor.


  • Creation: 1952 - 2014

Conditions Governing Access

Portions of this collection may be restricted per KSA 45-221(a)(4)(6). Contact staff at or (785) 864-4334 for assistance.

Conditions Governing Use

Spencer Library staff may determine use restrictions dependent on the physical condition of manuscript materials.

The literary rights to any unpublished materials of the collection are vested in the University of Kansas.

Biography of Robert Bennett (1927-2000)

Born May 23, 1927, in Johnson County, Kansas, Robert Frederick Bennett is the adopted son of Otto Francis and Dorothy Bess (Dobbs) Bennett. Bennett had four children with first wife Joan Gregory, whom he married in 1949: Robert Frederick, Jr., Virginia Lee, Cathleen Kay, and Patricia Ann. They were divorced, and he later married Olivia Fisher on July 16, 1971.

Robert Bennett graduated from Shawnee Mission Rural High School in 1945, received a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Kansas in 1950, and earned his L.L.B. from the University of Kansas Law School in 1952. Bennett served in the Marine Corps in the Pacific and China theaters during World War II and in Korea. In 1952, he was admitted to both the Kansas and Missouri Bars. Bennett founded the law firm of Bennett, Lytle, Wetzler and Winn of Prarie Village, Kansas in 1954

Bennett was elected a member of the Prarie Village City Council from 1955 to 1957. In addition, he served as the mayor of Prarie Village from 1957 to 1965, the president of the Kansas League of Municipalities in 1959, and a Republican state senator for 3.5 terms from 1964 to 1975. From 1973 to 1974, he was president of the Kansas Senate, a position he resigned when elected the 39th Governor.

The 1974 general election was the first in Kansas for a four-year gubernatorial term, with the candidates for governor and lieutenant-governor running as teams. Election issues included law and order, appropriate use of tax dollars, pledges for more efficient use of state resources, and Bennett's beard (which he decided to keep). Bennett and his running mate, Shelby Smith of Wichita, won the election over Democratic candidates Vern Miller and Jack Steineger and Prohibition candidates Marshall Uncapher and Roscoe Scroggin, by a vote of 387,792 to 384,115 and 11,968, respectively.

Once elected, Bennett organized his administrative staff to begin a departmental study of state government in order to streamline operations. Major changes were affected in the Department of Corrections, the Highway Department (later the Kansas Department of Transportation), Human Resources Department, and the Department of Economic Development (later the Department of Commerce). The Department of Aging was established to monitor nursing homes, grant homestead tax relief, and coordinate programs for the elderly. Bennett initiated a five year program, called the "3-Rs," which sought repair, reconstruction, and resurfacing of state highways. The Governor's Task Force on Water Resources conducted research and hearings on dwindling water reserves.

Bennett's Governor's Task Force on Effective Management, whose recommendations were early adopted, maintained thorough observation and control of state departments. During his four years in office, the tax base for Kansas remained unchanged. As part of an outreach program, the Governor established regional offices in Garden City and Wichita, as well as conducting a series of "listening tours" around the state. His spontaneous inspections of Kansas nursing homes created a stir in the industry as well as in the press.

In a hard fought campaign, Governor Bennett lost the 1978 election to John Carlin, former Speaker of the Kansas House of Representatives.

After the 1978 loss Bennett returned to his law firm and in 1982, after declining to run for the governorship again, became the head of the Kansas Republican Party.

Governor Bennett died on October 9th, 2000 in Johnson County, Kansas.


303.25 linear foot (305.75 linear feet (323 boxes) + 2 oversize boxes, 1 oversize folder)

Language of Materials


Scope and Contents

The gubernatorial papers were transferred to the Kansas Collection in January of 1979 to be processed and cataloged. Materials in some files pre-date Bennett's election as governor and reflect the transition from the Kansas Senate to the governor's office. The bulk of the papers date from 1974 to 1978 and reflect his official duties and activities, though some of the papers post date his time in office and reflect his continued involvement in the political landscape of Kansas, predominately in an adivsory role.

The gubernatorial papers provide an exceptional resource for the historical and political science researcher, as they are unusually complete and well organized. The bulk of the material is located in the General (or Green) Files. Here, much of the correspondence from state citizens, department personnel, foreign officials, and other persons is organized, with copies of the outgoing letters printed on green carbon paper. The greatest amount of time was spent by Spencer staff in collating, organizing and foldering these files. As with all the series, a specific description of the organization, content, and problems of the General Files is provided at the beginning of the series listing.

Included in this collection are the files of Mrs. Olivia Bennett, wife of Governor Bennett. Born August 6, 1931, in Norfolk, England, she immigrated to the United States at age twenty. As the official hostess of Cedarcrest, the governor's mansion, her duties were to entertain both official state guests and aid in tours for state citizens. During her four years as First Lady, Mrs. Bennett engaged in charity work for the March of Dimes and other organizations. It is rare for researchers to have available the files of the governor's spouse as are contained here.

Papers of several staff members are also represented in this collection. These include files from the offices of Leroy Towns (press secretary), James S. Maag (legislative liaison officer), Ron Servis and Pat Storey (administrative assistants), John Conard (executive assistant), Edward Flentje (director of state planning and research), and Helen C. Marshall (executive secretary).

These papers are unusually complete and, if thoroughly researched, can provide insight into the workings of a Kansas state executive administration.

Physical Location

RH MS 276

Physical Location

RH MS 903

Physical Location

RH MS 1416

Physical Location

RH MS Q425

Physical Location

RH MS R414

Physical Location

RH MS R415

Related Materials

H. Edward Flentje Papers, Kansas Collection, RH MS 897, Kenneth Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas.

Olivia Bennett Collection, Kansas Collection, RH MS 896, Kenneth Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas.

Kansas Republican Party records, RH MS 923, Kenneth Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas.

Separated Materials

Robert F. Bennett Senatorial Papers, RH MS 168, Kenneth Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas.

Processing Information

This collection was processed and the original guide prepared by J. Thomas Brown and Craig S. Crosswhite, with the assistance of funding from the Office of the Executive Vice-Chancellor, University of Kansas, May 1983. The processors Brown and Crosswhite tried to maintain the original series, department, and staff organization of the papers, with only occasional rearrangement of misplaced files. Changes by the processors have been noted in the series descriptions, and cross-references are noted on each folder where applicable.

The finding aid was encoded for electronic delivery in 2005. The finding aid was revised and additions to the collection processed in 2017.

The Kansas Collection wishes to acknowledge the assistance of James O'Malley, student assistant, and the dedicated work of Peggy Miller, Susan Walker, and Linda Miller for typing the original version of this guide.

We also wish to acknowledge the assistance of Dr. Edward H. Flentje, who served as liaison with the governor and his staff.

The abbreviation "GOP" appears often in the finding aid. "GOP" stands for "Grand Old Party," a nickname for the Republican Party. Many other abbreviations were used throughout the finding aid. An effort was made to clarify the abbreviation at least once in the finding aid by using the official name with the abbreviation in paretheseses. However, several abbreviations used by the initial creators are unidentified. Terms and language used within the collection are representative of when the images/text were created and has been replicated in this finding aid only when using official names of agencies, committees, or other organizations. All efforts have been made to replace offensive terms when revising the finding aid in 2021.

Guide to the Robert F. Bennett collection
Robert F. Bennett gubernatorial papers
Finding aid prepared by jtb & csc, 1983. Finding aid encoded by amc, 2005. Finding aid revised by mrm, 2009; twm, 2017; lmw, 2021; mwh, 2023.
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Finding aid permalink
Preferred citation
Robert F. Bennett gubernatorial papers, RH MS 276, Kenneth Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas

Repository Details

Part of the University of Kansas. Kenneth Spencer Research Library Repository

1450 Poplar Lane
Lawrence KS 66045-7616 United States